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The Disruptors: The Cambridge startup transforming the future of cell therapy

PUBLISHED: 09:48 14 August 2019 | UPDATED: 10:14 14 August 2019

Following over a decade of world-class multidisciplinary research, the Mogrify team announcing $3.7M of seed funding this year.        Picture: Phil Mynott

Following over a decade of world-class multidisciplinary research, the Mogrify team announcing $3.7M of seed funding this year. Picture: Phil Mynott

Phil Mynott

The latest in The Disruptors video series, we're looking at Biotech startup Mogrify, which wants to become a world-leader in its field. This year it raised $3.7 million in seed funding - CEO Dr Darrin Disley OBE explains what's next.

Tell us about Mogrify.

Our technology was developed to convert any mature cell type into another cell type, giving us the ability to manufacture mature cell types at scale, for the development of novel lifesaving cell therapies.

We're applying our patented technology to generate IP and cell types that will power the development and manufacture of new cell therapies across every therapeutic area.

What was the opportunity you identified that led to the launch of your business?

As the result of a critically ageing population, degenerative diseases and cancers are rising exponentially - and human cells hold tremendous potential to serve as regenerative medicines.

Mogrify CEO Dr Darrin M Disley OBE wants the biotech startup to become a 'world leader' in the field, enabling the development and manufacture of lifesaving cell therapies       Picture: Phil MynottMogrify CEO Dr Darrin M Disley OBE wants the biotech startup to become a 'world leader' in the field, enabling the development and manufacture of lifesaving cell therapies Picture: Phil Mynott

However, scientific shortcomings resulting in a lack of efficacy, safety and scalability has meant that less than a dozen cell therapies have been approved so far. The few therapies that do manage to achieve safety and efficacy are typically derived directly from biopsied mature cells, and therefore do not manufacture at scale.

Therefore, the ability to manufacture mature (functional) cell types at scale, via direct cell conversion using Mogrify's technology, would enable the development of novel life-saving cell therapies. We're uniquely positioned to address this market, which is estimated to be $35 billion by 2023.

How did you use invention and innovation to disrupt the market?

Mogrify is the only platform of its kind capable of producing any specific cells types with such accuracy, to create efficacious therapies without compromising safety or scalability.

This creates the opportunity to develop cell therapies using an individual's own cells, cells from a genetically non-identical donor and a new class of therapies: in vivo reprogramming, which means using small molecules to regulate gene expression at the affected site in the body.

What were the challenges you faced along the way and how did you learn from them?

The key challenge of building a disruptive company is to ensure that all stakeholders (founder, management, investors and customer) are aligned behind a clear strategy and execution plans. Where the various risks and rewards are understood, and where suitable governance is put in place to ensure accurate and transparent reporting processes.

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Earlier in my career it was tempting to simply charge up the mountain and oversell how we were doing, but by not bringing stakeholders along with the journey, it was very difficult to gain support for the pivots and strategy adjustments that are needed to build any successful business.

Now it's all about strategy, execution, governance and alignment of all stakeholders to the common purpose.

What advice would you give to someone launching a disruptive start-up?

Think beyond the day-to-day reality of what your business calls you to do. As an entrepreneur you must ask meaningful questions about your role in the world, your community, and how you can institutionalise your new-found perspective into the genes of your company, so that it lives, speaks, and demonstrates it in every action your company takes.

If you were starting from the beginning again, what would you do differently?

I've grown or invested in over 40 start-up life science, technology and social enterprises, so I'm a keen observer of founder motivations, business models and corporate development strategies. I see many of the same problems repeating themselves, despite the great wealth of knowledge that founders can draw from today.

The main reasons for business failure that I try to avoid are overly complex business models; management limitations; misaligned scientific founder motivations; attempts by vested interests to subvert good corporate governance to gain control or bias the commercial outcomes, and a misalignment of the interests between founder shareholders, technology transfer offices, management teams, and investors.

What has been the moment you are most proud of so far in your Mogrify's development?

Mogrify launched in February 2019, announcing $3.7M USD seed funding, following over a decade of world-class multidisciplinary research. Its big-data science approach overcomes the challenges associated with the traditional combination of educated guess and experimental trial and error.

The technology has already been validated with 100% success rate in over 15 cell conversions and a large number of biopharma partners and quality investors are already lining up to back the company.

What are your plans for the future?

To become the world-leader in the generation of fundamental IP, enabling the development and manufacture of lifesaving cell therapies. We're also planning to raise a significant Series A round to support further development, and grow to 60 employees over the next 18 months.

The Disruptors is a new video series highlighting the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge businesses shaking up their respective industries. Read more and follow the series here.

Want to tell us about how your business is disrupting its sector? Contact David Fieldhouse on 01603 772456.

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